Artist’s work fuses the personal with the universal

Artist Eva Mileusnic
Artist Eva Mileusnic
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Artist Eva Mileusnic was ready to throw in the towel when recognition turned things around. Nick Ahad spoke to her.

The odds couldn’t really have been more stacked against Eva Mileusnic.

She was a mature student in a field where, arguably, the power of youth is more celebrated than any other and she was dealing mainly with an issue that many have previously dealt with.

Then she won an award for her visual art work and from that point hasn’t looked back.

“When you graduate, you’re not sure where to go, or what you can do to work as a visual artist,” says Mileusnic.

“I decided to find a venue and got some of the other people I graduated with to exhibit – that was great to do, but it was only sustainable for a little while. I was coming to a point where it just wasn’t feasible to make work. I couldn’t really see the point if the platform to exhibit it just wasn’t there to show the work.”

Then two years ago she entered a competition at Station Gallery in Richmond – and her work stood out. The open competition, which artists entered anonymously, attracted entrants from across the North. Mileusnic’s first prize place was well deserved.

“It was what gave me the kick on that I needed in my career. It was a real boost – I had been plugging away and trying to make things happen and to win the competition just gave me the confidence to really throw everything in to my work and turn it into a career.”

Since then Mileusnic has been commissioned to produce an artwork for the soon to be opened Leeds Trinity shopping centre and this week she saw the official opening of a new solo exhibition at Huddersfield Art Gallery.

Shared Histories: A Visual Dialogue is a collection of impressively large works that reflect the preoccupation Mileusnic has had since she began her career – the story of refugees and immigration into Britain. Her journey to this impressive solo show began when the 53-year-old’s eldest son began looking into an art degree almost a decade ago. Having worked as a secretary for law firms for a number of years, Mileusnic realised she had found her calling. She applied to Leeds College to study art herself and then went on to do a Fine Art degree in Bradford.

“It was odd being a mature student, but I realised that I had found the thing I wanted to do,” she says. On graduating, the self-generated shows gave her an impetus, but when she couldn’t find a constant outlet for her ideas, she did a PGCE, thinking that she might become an art teacher. She soon realised that wasn’t for her.

Fortunately not long after, she was appointed artist in residence at Leeds College of Art and Design and then in 2011 came the top prize in Richmond.

“At the opening of the exhibition in Huddersfield this week, I had to leave the room,” she says. “It was just so overwhelming, the fact that all these people were there and the work was so personal, the journey that I’ve taken to get to this point, the whole thing was very emotional.”

Huddersfield Art Gallery, to March 9.

Art of the migrant experience rooted in family history

Mileusnic’s work is powerful and compelling, but also highly personal.

It traces the personal stories bound up in the migrant experience and the shared histories refugees often share. The reason Mileusnic is interested in these stories is that her personal history is bound up in the history of immigration – her parents fled Hungary after the Second World War and she was brought up in 1960s Britain. Her work explores what it means to be of a place and not of a place, but rooting the work so firmly in the personal gives a sometimes universal story poignancy.